Clary Sage Production in the Southeastern United States

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Production and constituents

Text of Clary Sage Production in the Southeastern United States


    by: John C. Leffingwell, John W. Stallings, Franklin O. Sellers, Robert A. Lloyd and Franklin C. Kane, Jr.

    R. J. Reynolds Tobacco Company, Winston-Salem, N.C. 27102

    Clary Sage (Salvia sclarea L.) production has long been extremely important for use in both

    perfumery and flavoring(1). The aromatic portion of Clary Sage originates in the flowering top and foliage

    portion of this tall perennial botanical. Depending on climatic and soil conditions, Clary Sage plantings

    are treated as annuals or are carried over for several years with the summer harvest season in any given

    area being limited to about three to six weeks(2). Although a second cutting of Clary Sage can sometimes

    be achieved in late fall, the oil or concrete obtained from processing the second overcut is usually inferior

    in both yield and quality since the plant rarely has time to recover to full maturity before, winter arrives.

    Mature Clary sage plant (White Variety)

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  • Mature Clary sage plant (Pink Variety)

    The oil of Clary Sage is valued by perfumers for use in conjunction with Lavendin, Lavender, and

    Bergamot and is now also used extensively in trace quantities for rounding off the aroma of perfume oils

    containing quality synthetic linalool and linalyl acetate chemicals produced either from the Roche

    acetylenic route or the Glidden pinene process. It is used In Oriental perfume creations and "tabac" type

    fragrances and possesses real value in the so-called "Herbal" compounds.

    Clary Sage oil is considered by many perfumers as possessing a characteristic note of sexuality so

    indispensable in the most expensive perfume creations.

    Although only a relatively small quantity of the Oil of Clary Sage is used on the flavoring side, it

    is .well known that certain European wines and liqueurs (Rhine types and vermouths, for example) owe

    their characteristic individuality to the trace addition of this essential oil. In fact, the German name for

    this oil (Muskateller Salbeiol) is literally translated as "muscatel sage oil"(3).

    The tobacco-like dry out note of this oil, which is of so much value in perfumery, is also very

    interesting in the highly specialized tobacco flavor field(4).

    Historically, Clary Sage appears to have its origin in the countries bordering the northern

    Mediterranean Sea(1). In the last forty years, this plant has been commercially cultivated in France, Russia,

    Hungary, Bulgaria, Italy, Morocco, Romania, England, and Yugoslavia. In the 1950's a serious attempt

    was made in the far western peppermint growing areas of Oregon and Washington in the United States,

    but these efforts met with little success. Today, only the south of France and the Crimean and Caucasus

    districts of the Union of Soviet Socialists Republic bordering the Black Sea represent a major factor in the

    world production of Clary Sage.

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  • Over ten years ago, R. J. Reynolds undertook a program of adapting the cultivation of Clary Sage

    and other essential oil bearing crops to the rich and fertile coastal plain near the old, and historically

    important, town of Edenton which was the capital of the original British Royal Crown Colony of North


    Avoca location

    View of Facility from Albemarle Sound

    Our Avoca plantation, which is located at the western end of Albemarle Sound in Bertie County,

    is situated in an area where the altitude and climatic conditions contrast sharply with the higher and dryer

    regions such as are found in the Departments of Var, Basses-Alpes, Drome, etc. in the South of France.

    Because of this, an extensive agronomy program was required to adapt and select strains of Salvia sclarea

    6th International Congress of Essential Oils, San Francisco, September 1974 3

  • L. which would produce good yields both of the essential oil and of Clary Sage Concrete - not only from

    an economic viewpoint, but just as important, from the standpoint of quality.

    Experimental Clary Sage Plots

    In order to provide you with an idea of our Clary Sage plantings, these aerial photographs of

    some of our sage fields present a colorful picture of the plantation fields just prior to harvesting.

    An Aerial View of the Sage Fields

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  • Another Aerial View of the Sage Fields

    The foreign production of Sage and other essential oils is usually carried out on plant material

    grown by local farmers, which is cut, allowed to air dry, and then hauled to central distilling centers

    where it is placed into large stationary stills for steam distillation.

    The plant material is ordinarily suspended in the body of the still on top of a large perforated

    grate to which chains are attached. The top of the still is then fixed in place and distillation is begun with

    low pressure steam(5). Following distillation, the spent plant material may be removed with a hoist, for


    Our initial experiments were conducted in a similar, but considerably smaller system simply

    constructed fiom a 55 gallon stainless steel drum. This portable field still followed a design kindly

    provided by Professor C. W. Shoppee and is modeled after a unit he has used in investigations of various

    indigenous oil bearing plants in the "outback" of Australia and New Zealand.

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  • Experimental Distillation Apparatus

    Experimental Distillation Apparatus in Operation

    Upon successful completion of our agronomic program, we evaluated the various possible

    commercial methods for essential oil production. From the beginning, we felt that the use of fixed,

    permanent, single batch stationary stills was inefficient for large scale production. Therefore, we

    investigated both distillation through a continuous horizontal screw conveyor steam distillation system

    6th International Congress of Essential Oils, San Francisco, September 1974 6

  • (similar to the type which has been reported to be successful in the USSR), and the portable truck

    distillation system which is currently in widespread use for the production of peppermint and spearmint

    oils in the northwest United States(6). Although both distillation systems possess considerable merit, we

    now feel that the efficiency of the portable truck system is best suited to our operation in that it allows us

    greater flexibility for expansion of oil production. Since 1971, when we first produced commercial

    quantities of Clary Sage oil of sage, we have been increasing our oil production at a rate of more than

    400% per year and expect within the next few years to be able to supply reasonable quantities of North

    Carolina (Avoca) Clary Sage oil which may be required by the trade.

    Mechanical Harvesting of Clary Sage

    Mechanical Harvesting of Clary Sage into Distillation Bin

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  • Delivering Truck to the Distillation Unit

    Docking a Truck Bin to the Distillation Unit

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  • Truck Bins at Distillation Units

    Frank Kane taking Clary Sage Oil Sample for Q.C.

    The physical and organoleptic characteristics of our oil are more similar to those of Russian Clary

    Sage than French.

    6th International Congress of Essential Oils, San Francisco, September 1974 9

  • Comparison of Three Sources of Clary Sage Oil

    This is best illustrated by examination of typical gas chromatograms (temperature programmed

    on a Carbowax 20M column) from samples of our Avoca oil compared to those of authentic samples of

    French and Russian oils . These chromatographic profiles which were obtained from our quality control

    laboratory provide clues that the major variations between types of Clary Sage oils occur primarily in the

    terpenoid and sesquiterpenoid portions with higher retention times. The slight variations in the low

    boiling monoterpene hydrocarbon fractions are probably indicative only of the age of cut Sage before it is

    processed. Organoleptically, this is of less importance to oil quality.

    Examination of a series of authentic Clary Sage oils, obtained at our facility, and from France and

    Russia, by glass capillary gas chromatography-mass spectrometry allowed us to rapidly identify more

    than 94% by weight of all eluting volatile components. The twenty-six components pinpointed in this

    chromatogram are listed in the following table along with the identification method and source oil

    analyzed. It should be pointed out that, in addition to these few components, Dr. R. A. Lloyd of our

    laboratory estimates that the total number of trace volatile constituents may exceed 300.

    The structural relationships between the monoterpenes present are all rather obvious to terpene

    chemists, and no particular surprises are found in the reported constituents. The monoterpene ratios

    observed from sample to sample and source to source are somewhat a variable of the steam distillation

    process and, at least to some degree, are a result of this processing. For exam